Here’s hoping you enjoyed the 2014 NFL season. It was fun while it lasted. Your team gave its best effort (with the exception of Washington, Jacksonville, Oakland and a select few others), but they’ll have to try again next year to secure that elusive championship.

 

With 100 days to go until the Super Bowl, we can forego the formalities and go ahead and hand the trophy to the Denver Broncos. As a Patriots fan, this writer can assure you that it’s not enjoyable to be on the other side of the Peyton Manning Experience. There’s a sense of helplessness, inevitability and irrational hatred when your team is subject to Manning’s surgical “Omaha, Omaha” precision. In short, you feel like there’s no way to stop it or even slow it down.

 

There is no secondary storyline for the remainder of this season. Everything that transpires will be evaluated on whether it makes it more or less likely that the Broncos will march to the title. This championship-or-bust scenario is not necessarily a comforting one for the players or head coach John Fox, and the success or failure of Denver to secure a Super Bowl victory will be the ultimate referendum on how they respond to this pressure. Peyton himself will either spend his entire off-season answering questions about whether a second Super Bowl ring cements his legacy as the greatest of all-time or whether he’s a chronic post-season underperformer.

 

While it’s plausible that the tough-minded Ravens or the Luck-led Colts shock the Broncos in the playoffs, or that the Seahawks or 49ers regain their bone-crushing 2013 form, the Broncos have created sufficient separation from all other championship contenders. Peyton is THE dominant figure of the NFL season, and one way or the other, we expected to be talking about him up until the very last game.

 

Here are some other top items to talk about in Week Eight:

 

The Anti-Peyton:
This year’s poster child for underperformance has been Jay Cutler. The Bears face a daunting back-to-back of the Patriots and the Packers, with their season hanging in the balance. It’s hard to say whether Cutler is truly a colossal disappointment or a misunderstood, enigmatic scapegoat, but his act is wearing thin in Chicago. These next few weeks could be a career-defining stretch. Also of note in this game, the Vereen brothers (Shane of New England, Brock of Chicago) will go head-to-head, and it could get physical as Shane plays running back and Brock is a safety.

 

When Fantasy Interrupts Dreaming:
You might want to think twice before popping that late night bottle. The NFL gods have given us our first-ever 9:30 am kickoff on Sunday, as the Lions and Falcons tee (tea?) it up in London. That means fantasy lineups are due early, so set the alarm for mimosas with the Matthews (Stafford and Ryan), java with Julio (Jones), donuts with NDamukong (Suh) and overall disappointment with Steven (Jackson).

 

Best of the Birds:
Broncos vs. Chargers was not the only power coupling of Week Eight. The Eagles visit to the Cardinals is a mega-matchup of 5-1 clubs, and while we always hesitate to say this, there may actually be some genuine football enthusiasm in the desert. While we expected the Eagles to run away with the NFC East, the Cardinals are the only NFC West team that has yet to falter (excepting their blowout loss at Denver…join the club). We have irrational exuberance for this Arizona team. The Eagles could change all of that.

 

If at first you don’t succeed…:
The final two storylines are really one extended narrative of futility. The Bengals and Saints — where do we begin? Each of these team’s fatal flaws have been exposed repeatedly the last few weeks. For various reasons, Sunday may the last best chance for these squads to prove the doubters wrong. The Bengals’ hopes of a division title hinge on this week’s matchup with the Ravens. Cincinnati has shown no sign of resolve in the face of adversity, and three weeks after appearing to be legitimate contenders, they are hurtling towards irrelevancy. The same is true for the Saints, who continue to reach new depths of ineptitude on the road. They typically rally for high-profile home tilts, such as this one with the Packers. It’s a tall order for New Orleans, but now is the time to conjure up any shred of magic.

 

How is your team handling the 2014 Season so far? Find me here or on Twitter @endbadly